10 December 2012

Our Family Christmas - Then and Now

My Christmas candle

In 'Family History Across the Seas', Pauleen invited us to take part in the 2012 Christmas GeneaMeme by describing how we celebrate Christmas in our part of the world. I will answer these questions from both a historical and a modern Australian perspective.
  1. Do you have any special Christmas traditions in your family?  The answers below cover most of them, apart from my father's pre-Christmas tradition, which I wrote about in GenFamilies. On Boxing Day we have a special family lunch with a large selection of cold meats and salads. The highlight is my sister Margaret's potato salad (the best I've ever tasted).

  2. Is church attendance an important part of your Christmas celebrations and do you go the evening before or on Christmas Day?  No, because I have almost always been a long way from a town at Christmas. On one of the few occasions when we spent Christmas in Brisbane, we went to a midnight service. It was a small suburban Anglican church, but the incense was so overpowering that we felt quite ill.

  3. Did/do you or your children/grandchildren believe in Santa?  My sisters and I believed in Santa. We hung a pillow case at the foot of the bed, and we left a note saying that there was a snack in the fridge.

  4. Do you go carolling in your neighbourhood?  No. It doesn't happen in the places where I've spent Christmas.

  5. What's your favourite Christmas music?  Michael Crawford's Christmas album.

  6. What's your favourite Christmas carol?  We Three Kings.

  7. Do you have a special Christmas movie/book you like to watch/read?  No, but if Carols from Kings College Cambridge is on TV I always watch that.

  8. Does your family do individual gifts, gifts for littlies only, Secret Santa (aka Kris Kringle)?  With no children or nieces or nephews, it is not an issue. We give individual gifts (lots of small things rather than something expensive). Even the dog gets a Christmas present - usually a new toy to keep him occupied while we eat!

  9. Is your main Christmas meal indoors or outdoors, at home or away?  Indoors at home, but we sometimes have drinks and nibbles outside at sundown, and occasionally a barbecue on the evening of Boxing Day.

  10. What do you eat as your main course for the Christmas meal?  Dad's mother was born in England and always cooked a traditional dinner, even in this hot climate, so we did the same. In the middle of the day we have roast chicken and roast vegetables - potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, onion, parsnip and beetroot (try it; it's good!) - with mushy peas and a slice of top quality leg ham. (Do other people have cold ham with a hot meal, or are we odd?!) Several hours later we tuck into plum pudding with or without icecream, custard, cream, and fresh homemade fruit salad.

  11. Do you have a special recipe you use for Christmas?  Yes, my mother's recipe for plum pudding. I will be making it this week. I need to chose a day with no risk of thunderstorms to cause a blackout!

  12. Does Christmas pudding feature on the Christmas menu? Is it your recipe or one you inherited?  The pudding is the highlight of our Christmas meals, so there is a lot of pressure on the cook! I use my mother's recipe. She was a domestic science teacher, and I recently found her rough notes from the first time she made the pudding, when she was experimenting with quantities.

  13. Do you have any other special Christmas foods? What are they?  In recent years I have made Rum Balls or White Christmas. For a historical perspective, see question 16 below.

  14. Do you give home-made food/craft for gifts at Christmas?  I often bake ginger biscuits (Mum's recipe) for my sisters, and sometimes I print personalised calendars using my own photos, or bookmarks with paper that I made myself (a hobby that I rarely have time for now).

  15. Do you return to your family for Christmas or vice versa?  While my parents were alive, I always spent Christmas with them and at least one of my two sisters. Robyn missed a couple of family Christmases when she was nursing in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. We usually went to Mum and Dad (which, before 1990, meant our childhood home out in the bush). When we were kids we spent one Christmas at a motel in Brisbane, because Mum had just come out of hospital after major surgery. I was old enough to appreciate the effort Mum and Dad made to stick to our traditions even in that strange environment.

  16. Is your Christmas celebrated differently from your childhood ones? If yes, how does it differ?  Many things are still the same. We are older on the outside but just the same inside! But nowadays, with shops close by, some things are very different from my childhood. We grew up on a grazing property in outback Queensland, almost fifty miles (on unsealed roads) from town, so we had to be somewhat self-sufficient. Mum made the icecream and custard herself. Christmas dinner was a rooster we'd fattened, plus wild duck. Things that are commonplace now (such as mixed nuts) were a treat that we only had at Christmas.

  17. How do you celebrate Christmas with your friends? Lunch? Pre-Christmas outings? Drop-ins?  Maybe lunch or dinner a week or two before Christmas. Some of my friends are so busy (have we lost the plot?!) that it is easier to get together after Christmas when things feel a bit flat.

  18. Do you decorate your house with lights? A little or a lot?  No lights - just a candle in a festive lead-light holder (the photograph above).

  19. Is your neighbourhood a 'Christmas lights' tour venue?  Some houses in my suburb in Brisbane take part, but the numbers have decreased since a massive hail storm wiped them out a few years ago.

  20. Does your family attend Carols by Candlelight singalongs/concerts? Where?  Rarely, because we've usually been a long way from a town.

  21. Have any of your Christmases been spent camping (unlikely for our northern-hemisphere friends)?  No.

  22. Is Christmas spent at your home, with family or at a holiday venue?  With family at one or other of our homes.

  23. Do you have snow for Christmas where you live?  No chance of that here in Queensland!

  24. Do you have a Christmas tree every year?  Yes, always (even the year we spent Christmas in a motel room). When we were kids, Dad took us to sandhills on a friend's property where we chose a small pine tree. Occasionally, if it was unbearably hot or if roads were boggy, we chose a different type of tree from closer to home.

  25. Is your Christmas tree a live tree (potted/harvested) or an imitation?  Always live, even if it is just a few small branches cut from a gum tree in the garden and bundled together. That's what it will be this year.

  26. Do you have special Christmas tree decorations?  Nothing elaborate or expensive - just lots of tinsel (red, green, silver, gold and blue) and coloured balls, and a star on top.

  27. Which is more important to your family, Christmas or Thanksgiving?  There is no Thanksgiving in Australia - but writing this has reminded me of how much I have, so before Christmas I will make a special effort to share it with those less fortunate (via Kiva).
When I see my sisters I will ask whether they want to add a comment with their own special memories. I enjoying reading about other people's Christmas traditions (especially those in other parts of the world), so I hope you will write your own story and put a link to it here and on Family History Across the Seas.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!
~ ~ ~


  1. Thanks for a great response Judy. I think yours are different in many respects because of your bush heritage. The other thing that shines through is how your family continued their traditions even under difficult circumstances. Your custard/ice cream made me think of my own Dad, who when asked just said "yes please" to both + cream! White Christmas -I'd forgotten that! Have a great Christmas with your family.

    1. Thanks Pauleen. Our life in the bush certainly was different, but the pluses far outweighed the minuses. I confess that (like your Dad) most of my family chooses 'plum pudding with the lot'. As for White Christmas... I never liked the bought stuff, but when I make it myself it's much nicer.

  2. Loved reading this which reminded me of our country Christmases... we lived in a small country, seaside town, so we had mixed experiences, a great place for children to be raised. Our paternal grandparents and a number of aunts, uncles and cousins , lots of cousins, all lived nearby, so large family gatherings were the norm... often with many visitors added to the mix.

    As for pudding, I didn't know there was an option... I always thought Christmas pudding came 'with the lot' ;-) not sure how, but I raised two children who don't like Christmas pudding... unheard of in my childhood, but then again any desserts were kept for special occasions only.

    1. Thanks, Chris, for supporting the concept of 'pudding with the lot'!!

  3. Hi Judy, thanks for showing me what the holidays are like in Australia. What is "White Christmas" is it like an ice cream?

    1. Hi Donna. 'White Christmas' is a type of confectionary. I will find my recipe and put it in a new blog post later today. Do let me know if you try it!

  4. I like the way you wove the old and the present. Looking forward to reading about "white christmas"

  5. Your Christmas Candle is so beautiful Judy. I went back to your Gen Families post and was touched to read about your father's generosity of spirit. A true inspiration and what Christmas is all about.
    Cold ham with a hot meal? YES!!! Hot mashed potatoes and peas with salad and cold meat, in the middle of summer, is very YUM too :-)
    Wishing you, and yours, much happiness during the festivities and a bright and joyous New Year. Thanks for all your work re: Kiva.

    1. Thank you Catherine. Your good wishes for Christmas and the New Year are warmly reciprocated. And your 'hot mashed potatoes and peas with salad and cold meat' is a good idea. It will make an interesting change to my menu this summer. :-)


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